Before the next selection committee resumes talent scouting for Indian cricket, it’s worthwhile examining India’s existing bench strength. The outgoing chairman of selectors MSK Prasad, who completed his five-year term last month, was asked to highlight his picks as standout batting and bowling reserves his team will be leaving behind for the new panel and the former India keeper painted a very healthy picture of India’s bench strength.
This year is not really Test-heavy for India, but Prasad’s picks nevertheless gave a low-down on what his panel—otherwise heavily criticised for its lack of international experience—thought of the back-ups they created. The names Prasad took were mostly part of the India A team picked for the series against New Zealand A to be played this month.
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Talking about India’s batting bench strength Prasad picked four—two of whom are on a comeback trail, and the other two were the leading domestic run-scorers of last season. “If you take the case of openers, now with Rohit (Sharma) stepping up, you have Rohit, Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw, KL Rahul, Abhimanyu Easwaran and Priyank Panchal. On any given day, any of these guys can open for India. That’s how we have groomed them from a systematic process through India A tours,” Prasad said.
Abhimanyu Easwaran and Priyank Panchal: None, of the four, even Easwaran and Panchal, however, are inspired picks, but selections based on domestic showings. The Bengal and Gujarat openers, had prolific Ranji seasons with 861 and 898 runs, averaging 95 and 60, respectively. One of the two was tipped to break into the Indian Test squad against South Africa last October with Rahul facing technical issues, Shikhar Dhawan going through a bad patch and Prithvi Shaw serving a doping suspension. It was then when Rohit Sharma was pushed up the order and he flourished. Sharma scored 529 runs in the series and both Easwaran and Panchal were back on the waiting list.
Prithvi Shaw and KL Rahul: Of the other two batsmen Prasad mentioned, Shaw has returned successfully with a double-hundred for Mumbai in Ranji Trophy, but still has ground to cover on the fitness front and shot selection. Rahul has had top-draw performances of late in limited overs cricket and despite his Test struggles, the outgoing selection committee rated him as a contender to win back the opening slot.
On the bowling front, India have a rich line of world-class fast bowlers led by Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammad Shami, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav. Prasad named six for the next committee to look at.
“Talking of fast bowling back-ups, we have Navdeep Saini, Avesh Khan, Basil Thampi, Sandeep Warrier, Ishant Porel and Mohammed Siraj. So, there is a bench for every slot. I am sure this will pave the way and strengthen the Indian team across all formats,” said Prasad.
Navdeep Saini: Saini, a tall strapping fast bowler from Delhi, already features in India’s limited overs scheme of things. He has the ability to consistently deliver with an upright seam and hit a searching length. He is tipped to soon push for a place in the Test squad.
Avesh Khan: The current set of selectors have had an eye on this 23-year-old right-arm pacer from Madhya Pradesh. He was sent with the Indian team to South Africa in 2018 as a net bowler. Khan also did net bowling duties with the India team during the ODI World Cup last year. Also tipped to do well in T20 cricket, Khan started playing IPL for RCB in 2017 before being lapped up by Delhi Capitals.
Basil Thampi: Identified as a T20 find for his accurate wicket-taking yorkers, Thampi has begun to find his feet in long form cricket too. Awarded IPL’s emerging cricketer award in 2017, the Kerala seamer now also has 72 first class wickets to his name.
Sandeep Warrier: The 28-year-old Kerala fast bowler has been picked for one-day and four-day India A squads for the upcoming New Zealand A tour. This was on the back of an impressive show in first-class cricket last season where he picked 44 wickets to take his state team to the Ranji Trophy semi-finals. This is Warrier’s second coming after being noticed by Virat Kohli in 2013 and picked to play for the RCB. He was subsequently ignored and winning an IPL place again with KKR in 2019 has revived his career.
Ishan Porel: Porel was the unlucky medium pacer who broke down after bowling a few overs in India’s U19 World Cup opener in 2018. He came back strong in the tournament which India won.
But injuries have been Porel’s biggest stumbling block. The Bengal seamer is back among wickets this season and was picked in the India A squad for the New Zealand A tour.
Mohammed Siraj: Siraj was in the running for an ODI World Cup spot but his inability to restrict the flow of runs while playing for India and in the IPL put paid to his ambitions. Picked for India A’s tour to New Zealand shows the selectors still see a future for him.
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